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Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's
(Activision/Harmonix for PS2)

By Michael Palisano

Guitar Hero Encore Rocks the 80's is an expansion pack that features an interesting selection of classic rock anthems and pop songs from nearly twenty years ago. The gameplay and conventions remain largely unchanged, though the characters have been given more appropriate attire and wacky haircuts to match the era. The song selection is mixed this time, with some odd new-wave pop mixed with hair metal to create a somewhat jarring clash of styles. There's a decent selection of around two dozen tracks and the game offers some cool unlockables as well. It's good for what it is, but GH Rocks the 80's doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas.

Guitar Hero and its sequel have created quite a sensation over the past year, spawning contests, websites and several high-profile imitators. Hoping to capitalize on this success, Activision and Harmonix have released the first expansion pack for the series, Guitar Hero Encore Rocks the 80's for the Playstation 2. Taking the newly successful franchise back to the days of hair-metal and glam rock, Guitar Hero Encore Rocks the 80's offers a decent selection of nostalgic metal and rock tracks for older players. Bands like Quiet Riot and Flock of Seagulls have long since fallen off the pop charts and these old tracks will probably only be familiar to older players. The game does a decent job of recreating the 80's vibe and its characters have been given makeovers, with the old-school mullets and animal print spandex that defined the 80s style of music. Encore's basic gameplay mechanics remain largely unchanged from previous versions so this should be a familiar experience for those who've played the other games.

Guitar Hero Encore's accessible gameplay is deceptively straightforward and easy to understand. The basic premise is that you are a guitar player and your mission is to follow the notes as they appear on the screen and use the fret buttons on the controller to hit in time to when they hit your time bar. It's somewhat tricky at first but becomes easier once you get the timing down. The trick is to hold down the strum bar before the notes hit, which requires some dexterity. Depending on which difficulty setting you use, they come down at different speeds in time to the song, making it important to keep the beat and feel of each track. When playing in the easier levels, this is relatively easy to perform. Once you get to the harder levels, you'll need better timing and coordination, since notes come at you faster. The patterns also become more complex since you need to strike chords with multiple buttons. These are harder to perform since need to be pressed at the same time to create these notes, making things more complicated. Some notes need to be pushed when they hit your status bar, while others need to be held down to create a longer note to create longer notes. As you get the feel of each song and learn its rhythms, you can use the whammy bar to wail and make the notes sing which increases your score and ratings.

As you shred through each of these old songs, the crowd's reaction will rank your playing ability. If you consistently hit notes and chain combos, your rock meter will rise. When you miss notes, your ranking will fall. If you miss too many notes, the meter will start flashing red and if you miss too many notes, the song will end prematurely. In addition, the score will rise if you hit notes in succession, which helps competitive modes. Combining multiple notes also increases your score multiplier, which goes through the roof the better your performance is. Consistently hitting the notes will rock the crowd, and increases your score and ratings. Adding to these cues, you'll also hear the cheers and boos of the crowds as you play, which helps to set the mood for each performance. If you really start doing well, you're special Star Power Meter will rise. When the Star Power meter is filled up, you can implement this special mode for a short time, and cause your guitarist to perform some super moves that will really rock the crowd. This can help to increase your score even more and helps you to achieve super-human score much faster. Learning how and when to implement these special moves is a key element in beating the songs and unlocking additional tracks.

Guitar Hero Encore includes several modes of play to help anyone go from groupie to legend without much effort. There's a practice training mode is included which helps you learn the basics. The game has several levels of difficulty and these play a large role in the complexity and challenge you'll face. Guitar Hero II starts off simply enough, but its harder levels throw many notes at you at much faster speeds, requiring a great deal of skill. The solo modes are a lot of fun, but the game also lets you battle it out with another player in multiplayer mode. Playing the solo mode is fun in short bursts, but most players will probably get bored of the same half-dozen songs after awhile. In order to unlock more tunes, you need to go into the game's Career mode. Here, you can start and name your band, select your avatar character, and more. The good thing about this expansion pack is that it offers all of the modes from the other games, so it doesn't feel cheap or half-baked.

The game uses essentially the same engine and many of the same rock band environments as you've seen in GHII, though some of the decorations and posters have been changed to reflect the time period, which is a nice touch. For those players who already own GH I or II, the game allows you to use your Guitar controllers and is fully compatible with most third party controllers as well. This adds a new dimension to the gameplay and helps to make this a more immersive and exciting experience. While your reaction to the game will probably vary depending on how much you enjoyed this era of music, Guitar Hero Encore Rocks the 80's is essentially the same game that came out a few months ago with a neon paint job. While it won't exactly win points for originality, it's a solid game that should please fans of the series.


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Guitar Hero II (PS2)
Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)

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